Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals

A rolling blog of everyday life on and around the workbench (Archived - May 2017)


30/05/2017: My 'regular' client - he of the baritone and the fine custard slices - had recently returned from abroad and brought his Yamaha 62 baritone in for a proper once-over...and a jolly good clean. Being silverplated there wasn't much that was particularly jolly about least not for me. I don't know what it is about polishes, but either they smell sublime (and possibly slightly addictive) or they have the kind of niff that gets right up your nose...and stays there for days. So for a couple of days I had to put up with everything I ate or drank tasting vaguely of Goddard's Long Term Silver Polish. I suppose I shouldn't complain...after all, I still suffer from olfactory flashbacks from that fish I once found in a saxophone...and that was over a decade ago. I also shouldn't complain because I'd been hoping to get my hands on a YBS62 for long enough to do a proper review of it. I did one way back in 2002 - it was pretty much one of the first reviews I ever did...and, frankly, it wasn't my best effort. Hardly any photos and precious little blurb - it's more of a footnote than a proper article.
I mentioned as much the client, who was absolutely thrilled to hear his horn was going to be the subject of a review. "What, my horn? Reviewed?? Oh man, I've gotta send all my mates the link!"
It's not an uncommon reaction, strangely enough - and it strikes me that maybe the owners of review horns approach it with the same attitude that celebrities did when they were asked to appear on the Morecambe & Wise show. They knew they were in for a bit of a ribbing, but the caché of appearing on the show far outweighed any other considerations.

As per usual we set to discussing the relatively unimportant matter of what work the bari needed, and then moved on to far more important subjects such as gigs, music, life, the universe and well as the knotty problem of what to do about the custard slices. Clearly this was a matter that weighed as heavily on his mind as it did mine (they were bloody good, after all) - but certain assurances were given to the effect that he'd come bearing gifts when he returned to collect his horn.

M's bakery pear and almond tartAnd today was the day.
I'd be lying if I said I hadn't approached this day with some anticipation. He'd dropped me an email a day or so ago to tell me that he'd found a new bakery - M's Bakery - and it was his intention to pop in there on his way over and procure the necessities. However, if they didn't do custard slices (perish the thought) what else might I be tempted with? Well that's a tricky question. A custard slice is a custard slice, and I'm afraid that anything else is just cake - but I said I'd leave it up to his considerable skill and judgement in such matters. And thus it was that he turned up clutching a small paper bag.

"I have some good news and some bad news" he said...which turned out to be that the bakery was independent (good) but they didn't do custard slices (bad) - and would I be satisfied with a pear and almond tart? I shuffled uncomfortably. A pear and almond tart sounded suspiciously like a cake - and perhaps sensing my unease he whipped the thing out of the bag and placed it on the workbench.

Oh my, it was a thing of beauty - a symphony of tasteful browns and succulent yellows, perfectly formed and glistening beneath the bench lamp.
What can I say? I got halfway through the thing before I realised I'd forgotten to take a photo of it for the blog - so you'll have to make do with a shot of a tart that's been mangled by my choppers.
It's not a custard slice, but it is a very, very fine tart indeed. The crisp outer pastry gives way to a moist filling, which in turn gives way to a surprisingly subtle fruitiness. Nicely balanced too, not nearly as sweet as you might think...and none of that awful 'marzipanny' flavour that so very often besets (and ruins) anything with almonds in it. If I were an expert on pear and almond tarts, I'd give it 10 out of 10.
It was, as they say, smiles all round.

As for the old custard tart bakery, it seems the local press ran an article about the closing of the which the fame of their custard slices was mentioned. Seems I wasn't alone then.


22/05/2017: Apparently it's alto season here at the workshop - I'm knee deep in the things - but the arrival of a particularly special one caused me some pause for thought.
I'm always pretty busy, and right now I'm really rather busy...but I know how much people seem to enjoy my reviews, and this was a horn that simply begged for one. It's Yanagisawa's new WO33 - the one with the silver bell and crook (with a brass body). It has to be said, it didn't take me long to decide I simply had to make the time to run up a review...which meant watching my peaceful, relaxing Sunday disappear over the horizon.
The things I do for you lot, eh?

Yanagisawa WO33 top stack playIt was during the course of the review that I once again had to pause for thought.
I found some 'issues'. Now, let's be honest, I nearly always find some issues. That's kind of my trademark - I don't do the sort of review where everything's always rosy, because I'm always acutely aware of how expensive some of these horns are, and how much blood, sweat and tears people have had to shed in order to be able to afford to buy one. And I'm also a firm believer in the value of knowing a product's faults and foibles as well as its good points. It allows people to make up their own minds, and to decide whether they feel the negatives outweigh the positives.
For example - I have a very nice washing machine. It did well in the reviews and it does a nice job. However, it beeps when it's finished...and it keeps repeating the beeps until you turn the damn thing off. There's no way to disable the function (short of sticking a screwdriver through the beeper...which is a solution I'm looking in to). It really annoys me. I wouldn't mind a single beep to let me know it's finished...but I do mind being nagged to stop whatever I'm doing and get up to turn the machine off. Had any of the reviews I read pointed this 'feature' out, I would have thought twice about buying it.
Granted, some people may find the feature useful - but it's not for me...and it would have been nice to have had the choice.

So this is why I like to point at things that I consider to be suspect - and try to explain in simple terms why I believe such things are or may become a problem.
But I'm also aware that there are real people behind these horns. People who designed them, people who made them...and people whose livelihood depends on selling them. I'm not one of those people who feels that all corporations are faceless by default, nor that they're out to rip us all off - but I think I have a duty of care in favour of the people who buy the products.
So when I see (or foresee) problems I'm always asking myself "Is this fair?" - and I try do so from the perspective of the maker and of the buyer. It can be difficult, but I feel that the bottom line has to be "You made this product and put it on the shelf like this - which means you must consider it to be fair value for money".

YAS62 top stack playWhen it comes to detailing such faults it's a two-part process for me. I assess what I see and set out my immediate thoughts in the draft review. I then give it a day or so before returning to it with a fresh pair of eyes. We all have our good and bad days, and I'm no different - and sometimes I'll find that I feel my comments are a touch on the harsh side. Equally, I sometimes feel I've been a bit too lenient. And sometimes I'll ask someone else to have a read and tell me how they feel it comes across. I think it's important - I want to be able to look back over old reviews and know that, if nothing else, it was a considered approach.

I just thought I'd share a little insight about the review process, and illustrate it with this example.
I noticed a bit of free play on the Yanagisawa. Most horns exhibit a touch of it here and there, but there's a general expectation that the amount of free play should be in proportion to the price of the instrument and its age. At least that's my expectation.
This horn comes in at a whopping five grand or so, and is only 18 months old - and yet half of the top stack had visible free play. My first instinct is to think "That's not right, surely they wouldn't have done that" and to check for a cause. But when I don't find one, or when it's clear that the fault is built in, I feel obliged to get Mr Picky out of the cupboard and say "Whaddya think of that??"
In this case I was able to measure the amount of play - which turned out to be 0.1mm on the top stack section as a whole, with a further 0.15mm on the B key. In the right circumstance this'll mean the B key can shift 0.25mm up or down. That's a lot by any standard, given that the feelers I use to check for leaks are only 0.02mm thick.
So I feel it's a bit naughty - but am I being too picky? I suppose I'd answer that question by pointing out that none of the other keys exhibited this much play - or indeed any at all - and I'd also point out that I measured the play on another horn and found it had a bit less. In this case it was splendid old purple logo Yamaha 62. The thing's in mint condition...and at 40+ years old it's practically a vintage horn these days. It's clearly not had any work done to the action, so the play got there either by fair wear and tear or was built in at the factory. Probably a bit of both.
And that begs the question as to why a substantially cheaper and very much older horn has less free play in the top stack.

It's not an unreasonable question, and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a very high level of build quality for five grand - and if that makes me Mr Picky then so be it. Someone's gotta do it, might as well be me. And I haven't even mentioned the other problem I found...


18/05/2017: An interesting job's come in recently- a general service on a brace of Martins. At least that's what they are according to what's stamped on the bells.
Martigisawa sopranoHowever, while the alto is undoubtedly a Martin Committee the soprano is something else entirely.
I suspect a practised eye would be able to spot the telltale signs - the shape of the spatulas, the layout of the palm and bell key touchpieces etc. - but the biggest giveaway is the word stamped below the serial number.
It says 'Japan'.

Yep, this Martin is a Yanagisawa - an 800 series to be precise.
There's obviously a back-story as to how this horn got branded as a Martin - and I'll probably deal with that when I get around to reviewing this little beast. Oh yeah, I've gotta review'll fit in nicely with the rest of the Yani sops I've reviewed down the years. Almost got the full set now. And yeah, I'm hoping there'll be enough time to review the alto too - but last week's bonkers-mad tidying up session has been nipping at my heels, and I'm still trying to finish up the review of that old Borgani soprano. I though I was doing OK, and then a couple of emergency jobs came in which really threw the rest of the spanners into the works.
I wouldn't mind, but one of them turned out to be a 'clock stopper'.

What's a clock stopper? It's just one of those jobs that turns out to be a complete pain in the arse. You quote for the job, and under normal circumstances you'd be just fine...but one or two little things go awry and you have to make the choice between doubling your quote, leaving the fault as is or simply stopping the clock and getting on with it.
I really don't like to break my quotes, and I can't really bring myself to say "That'll have to do", so I'm left with ploughing on with grim determination. That's just the way the job goes sometimes, and there's not much you can do about it other than learn from the experience and make a better call the next time a similar job comes in. Bit of a sobering thought though...nigh on 40 years at the bench and still learning.
Makes me think back to the day I finished the college course in instrument repairing - clutching my City & Guilds certificate and thinking "I'm an instrument repairer, me".
I'll get day.


13/05/2017: It's been a bit quiet on the blog lately due to a combination of the pressures of work and some advanced tidying up.
In fact the pressure of work is entirely down to the tidying up - by which I mean that it was rather more involved than running around with a dustpan and brush. And it's all the fault of an impulse purchase at the local tip.
Well, I say impulse...but when a chap with a shed spots a set of handy metal drawers going for the price of a six-pack of beers, resistance, as they say, is futile. I'd bought the set on the left some time ago (also from the local tip), and promptly filled up all the drawers with 'stock materials'. This would be small bits of various metals, plastics, exotic hardwoods and just about anything else that might come in handy for making replacement parts or tools.

A nice pairof drawersAnd, of course, no matter how much storage you have, there's never quite enough space to get everything in. This leads to some difficult choices when it comes to deciding which materials will have to share a drawer. You can't, for example, bung stainless steel in with mild steel. They look very similar but are rather different materials - and you wouldn't want to bung general plastics in with specific types (such as Delrin). So you end up with 'Brass rounds' cheek-by-jowl with 'Aluminium flats'. It works, but every time you open the drawer you're overcome by a terrible sense of storage inadequacy....which is nasty thing for a chap with a shed to have to endure. So you can perhaps understand my excitement and relief when this rather natty set of purple drawers came up for grabs.

Having bought it and lugged it back to the workshop it suddenly occurred to me that I didn't actually have anywhere to put it.
OK, that's not quite true - I have plenty of space...but what I don't have is any space where I want the drawers to go. This is an important distinction - a set of drawers in the wrong place is almost as bad as not having any at all, because they only really work if they're properly 'handy'. Move them a few feet away from your working radius and they soon fall into disuse...or at least get filled up with a load of crap you rarely use.
No, they had to go where they had to go - and that was that.

No big deal, then - just make a space. The drawers aren't that big, should be easy enough.
Problem is, my workbench sits in the centre of the workshop. I have storage all around the walls and storage surrounding the unused sides of the bench. It wasn't going to be a simple case of 'budging up' a shelf or a cabinet...I was going to have to start at one end of the storage chain and work my way backwards.
And that's when the fun started.

The upshot of all this was that this went there, that went here, those went up and they went down. And then I got an attack of the 'might as wells'. You know the score...if you've taken down a set of shelves you 'might as well' move that electrical socket while you're there...and maybe sort out that annoying bit of uneven flooring...and then perhaps have a root through the stuff that was on the shelves to see what can be chucked out...and then maybe think again about what you're going to put on the shelves once you've moved them...and then...and then...
Four days it took. Four bloody days. And I still haven't finished.
But I at least got to a point where the new drawers had a space, and everything that was essential for work was where it needed to be. The rest is just what I can 'shed stuff' - the sort of odds 'n sods that 'might come in handy one day' or that need sorting out whenever you can get around to it.

And here's the rub - I spent so much time tidying up that the work deadlines caught up with me...and so I haven't had time to put anything in the new drawers yet.


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